Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A running-first

There are many negative things that affect most, if not all runners at some point in their running careers -- blisters, dehydration, exhaustion, cramped muscles, run-ins with dogs, being run off the road by vehicles, getting lost, being hit by something, and getting yelled at -- just to name a few. A year and a half ago was the first time I had something thrown at me from a passing car (a full beer can). Yesterday I had another running-first -- I was bitten by a dog.

I had had a bad day for various reasons, and Tea and I had just finished writing our lesson plans for the following day.  I was frustrated by the things that were weighing on my mind from the day; so although it was already 7:30 p.m., I decided to go for a short, fast run to work out my stress. I quickly changed my clothes, laced up my sneakers, and was on the road by 7:45. The sun had set, leaving a strip of vermillion light peeking out underneath the dusky-purple cloud of the cold front that had settled over the village. The cool air (winter is having a bout of separation anxiety this week) felt refreshing as it washed over my stressed out body. My expression immediately relaxed. Nothing calms me down like a furious workout.

The village is full of dogs -- big dogs, small dogs, meek dogs, loud dogs, skinny dogs, fluffy dogs -- everyone has at least one "house protector." All properties are also fenced in. Everyone's primary land (house and yard) and sometimes the orchards, too, are surrounded by some type of fence. For the most part, the fences keep the family dogs contained.... for the most part. But there are a few who habitually jump their fence to chase whoever may be passing by the house.

 One dog in particular has been getting more and more aggressive when I run by. It always barks and chases me if it sees me coming. In the last few weeks, it has started running right up on my heels and tagging the back of my sneakers, then backing off. There is usually a group of men who hang out on the road there. When that dog comes after me, they all yell at the dog and chase it back to its yard.

Yesterday, since I was out later then my usual running time, there were few villagers out on the road. I was on my way back to the house -- about a mile left to go. I approached the mean dog's house, not really paying attention to the angry barking coming from behind the fence. The dog ran ahead of me to the end of its yard, cleared the fence in one easy bound, and circled back to meet me head-on. None of this was unusual for this dog, so I was not alarmed. Fur standing up along its neck and upper back, teeth bared, the dog lunged at me and tagged my sneaker as I passed. Again, this was its usual reaction to me, so I kept going. But then it lunged at me again, this time, latching onto my calf. I felt its strong jaws squeeze my muscle. I whirled around to face my attacker. I yelled at the dog, and it backed off; as its owner yelled for it from inside the house, the dog jumped back over the fence and was gone.

Me being me, I began running again, fueled by the shot of adrenaline I'd just gotten. My leg didn't really hurt, so at first I thought it was nothing. After a couple of minutes, my calf started to ache, and I started wondering if the dog's teeth had broken the skin. I stopped, hit the "stop" button on my watch, unzipped the ankle-zipper on my track pants, and pulled up the pant leg to look at my calf. My heart sank. An inch-and-a-half gouge had filled with blood and was dripping down my leg. I couldn't tell how deep it was in the low light, but I could tell it wasn't merely a scratch. I knew I needed to get home. I pulled the pant leg back down, zipped it closed, and hit the "start" button on my watch as I took off down the road.

The wound was beginning to throb as I slowed to a walk in front of the house. I went into my room to get clean clothes and my towel. Undecided as to whether I should shower or tell Tea what had happened first, I put my things in the bathroom and stood there for a minute, immobile. I decided to tell Tea before I showered. I stepped into the kitchen where she sat amid ingredients that she was preparing for stuffed cabbage. By the look on my face, she knew that something was wrong.

"A dog bit me," I stated flatly. I pulled up my pant leg. I thought she might pass out.

"Deda!" she whispered frantically, clutching her heart. "Our Grandmother" saw the wound and immediately ordered that vodka be brought -- for sterilizing the wound..... and maybe to drink, too! There was none in the house, so Tea took off for the neighbor's. In the meantime, Tea's cousin, Zaza walked into the house, saw my leg, and when I told him that a dog had bitten me, he said that I needed an injection. He called Koba to come home from wherever he was with the car. Tea arrived at the same time as Koba, and instead of dousing the bite with vodka, we all piled into the car and took off down the road for the village nurse's house.

The nurse took one look at the bite and refused to touch it. She ordered us to the hospital. We piled into the car again, this time headed for Zugdidi.

Koba drove as fast as he could on the ridiculously bad road out of the village, careened through town, and pulled up to the "Ambulance Only" entrance of the hospital. The guard at the gate stepped out of his glassed-in shelter. Koba told him (in Georgian) that he had an American who had been bitten by a dog. The man pushed the button to raise the gate, and we sped through.

Visiting a Georgian hospital was the last thing I wanted to do. I hate all hospitals and doctor's offices, and the prospect of medical treatment by a developing-country's night-shift actually scared me (and I am not afraid of much). I envisioned a dingy, dirty, unsanitary, crowded place where I would be stuck with a giant needle in the stomach -- the old-school rabies treatment. The entire drive to the hospital, I was silent, trying to get a grip on myself and my trepidation.

After parking the car, Koba, Zaza, Tea, and I walked through a crowd of men hanging outside the ER, smoking and waiting. We weaved our way through the throng to the doors where a police officer stood guard. Koba told him what had happened, and he let us through. Tea and I were immediately escorted to an empty treatment room and a nurse walked up with a notebook and a pen. She took down all my information, called my insurance company to verify my coverage, and asked us to wait for the doctor to come and look at me.

Tea and I sat in the large treatment room and waited. We were both glad that the room was empty, but it still smelled like a nasty hospital room. I suggested that we race the beds-on-wheels up and down the room, and Tea cracked up. She said that she was so glad I could keep my sense of humor at such a stressful time. I told her that it was either laugh or cry. We laughed.

We didn't have to wait long before the doctor came in. He looked at the wound and then wanted to know all about the dog -- if we knew who it belonged to -- if it was a stray -- anything we could tell him about it. He said that the dog must be watched for ten days to see if it had any changes in behavior -- rabies is a real threat in this country. He said that he would give me a tetanus shot and also start the series of shots for rabies. He went to his office and left the nurse to tend to the wound.

She poured an entire bottle of some milky-white liquid over the puncture, rinsing off the blood that was caked on and around the gouge. I could see down through the layers of skin now -- all the way to the muscle. Yuck. At the deepest spot, the puncture was about a half-inch deep. I was in too much shock to feel anything, so nothing that she did hurt as she cleaned the bite. After fully irrigating the wound, she slathered on lots of betadine -- I felt that one. Some piles of gauze and tape, and I was as good as new.

Not really.

Tea and I followed the nurse down the tiled, dimly-lit hallway and into the doctor's office -- a startling contrast in lighting with three large, interrogation-strength fluorescent lights shaped like mini-steering wheels hanging from the ceiling. I sat on the bed as the nurse readied the tetanus shot. She was very nice and very gentle -- and if the liquid didn't burn as it went into my shoulder, I wouldn't have known she was giving me a shot. The doctor explained all the shots that I would need, wrote up a prescription for antibiotics and an allergy-blocker, and then went through a list of what I couldn't do while on the medication. This is where it got weird.
  - No coffee or chocolate for 10 days. (Okay, I'll survive)
  - No alcohol for six months. (What??)
  - Don't be cold. (Okay.)
  - Don't sweat. (Wait a minute.......)
  - No watching the sun set. (What the heck???)
  - No physical or mental exertion. (So..... do I meditate for two months?)
Then I asked when I can run and dance again. His answer, "In two months." I shook my head -- no way. No way can I not run for two months. I'll go crazy and I'll drive everyone around me crazy. I asked why I shouldn't run for so long. He said that physical activity will inhibit the injections from working properly. And since the rabies virus can lie dormant in the body for a few weeks, the shots may not work if I am active. I told Tea that I would do some research online about this. I absolutely cannot not run.

The doctor bid us goodbye and the sweet, barrel-shaped nurse led us back to the treatment room. Since the doctor had been speaking in a mix of Georgian and Mingrelian when explaining the shots I would need, I didn't understand what he had said. I had no idea what I was in for.

The nurse said that the first one would be given in my wrist and then I would have to wait 20 minutes before the next one -- "First one? next one?" I thought, and my face reflected my surprise. I climbed up onto one of the wheeled beds that I had joked about racing and lay down. No racing for us. I held out my arm, and she again gave me the shot as gently as she could. This one hurt. I flexed my hand to try to alleviate the burning, but the nurse told me I needed to be still. It was too much, and the tears that had been waiting in the wings suddenly sprang into view. I couldn't hold them back. They streamed down both sides of my face. I hate shots. I hate needles. I hate hospitals. I hate being injured. I hate pain. And here I am, lying in a hospital bed on the other side of the world from where I belong -- it was just too much. Tea rushed around to one side of my bed, and the nurse stood by me on the other side. Tea held my arm and hand, and the nurse smoothed back my hair and wiped my tears. They both reassured me that I was going to be alright -- I had English reassurance on one side and Georgian on the other.

I collected my composure after a couple of minutes of tears, and told the two worried faces peering down at me that I was alright. In that moment, Tea's face was like an angel -- like my guardian angel who is so familiar to me -- has been a part of my life forever. I'm not sure how else to explain it, but I felt as if I have known her all my life.

The other three shots were not as bad as the one in the wrist -- one in the shoulder, and twenty minutes later, two in the buttocks.

When all the shots were done, we left the hospital, got back into the car, and found an all-night pharmacy. After filling my prescription, we drove back to the village. I was so glad to be home after being stuck like a pin-cushion for an hour. I took my medications and went to bed.

I didn't go to school today, and I won't be going again tomorrow. I am sore and if I keep my leg down for more than a couple of minutes, it starts to throb. Today Tea took me back to the village nurse's house to change the bandage, and I took my camera along to take some pictures -- If only I had thought to shoot some of the fresh wound -- it looked nastier yesterday.....

Blood-soaked guaze -- the small cut and bruise on the right are from the dog's upper teeth

And this is the cleaned-out gouge from its lower teeth

As I told my friend James..... at least it will be a scar with a good story behind it!


  1. So sorry you had to go through all this, but glad you have started the rabies shots...can't be too careful. Am praying for you (and am glad you got the soul cleansing from the tears- sometimes you just need that!)...Take care, sweetie! :)

  2. A correction:
    In the list of things I'm not supposed to do, "Watch the sunset" should have been translated as, "Lie in the sun." Tea had said, "Take the sunset" as she quickly translated what the doctor said.

  3. Oh, how awful! We are sending great big hugs and sincere wishes for a speedy recovery!

    -- James' Mom and Dad